It catches you just as you walk into your local grocery store: wafts of frying oil and chicken permeating the entrance that pulls you, almost unconsciously, toward the prepared foods section. Los Angeles’s grocery stores have long been a place to get affordable, ready-made fried chicken, but the offerings have expanded beyond the conventional batter on legs, breasts, wings, and thighs. While major box stores have been selling it for decades, Southern California’s Asian markets also feature the greatness of fried chicken to entice customers, offering the ultimate grocery cart add-on for easy weeknight dinners.
Walk into any SoCal Vons, Torrance’s Tokyo Central, or a gas station mini-mart, and fried chicken is available up to 24 hours a day. It’s a hot option that doesn’t need to be reheated at home, and like most comfort foods, it can take the sting out of a busy workday. Hop around this giant region and discover that one grocer’s recipe is completely different from the next. It’s a safe assumption that people, no matter which city they live in, are grateful for a meal that is easy to eat, priced reasonably, and, as is the case with Disco Dining Club Owner Courtney Nichols, deeply nostalgic.
“There are certain tastes of ‘90s Los Angeles that will stick in my mind forever,” Nichols says. “The Bigg Chill, See’s Candies, the lobster bisque at Hamburger Hamlet. But number one is fried chicken strips at Gelson’s. It’s a rite of passage in LA to be [hooked] to those chicken strips, and I have been [eating] those chicken strips since the early ‘90s. But I can dive headfirst into fried chicken from any supermarket.”
As a lifelong LA resident, Nichols maintains loyalty to local grocery fried chicken. “I am a big fan of elevating most things that people under-expect from places like Ralphs, Albertsons, or Safeway. There’s a plethora of quality to-go items on the shelves, as well as quality ingredients for the fried chicken, which has always been way up there,” she says.
Without question, made-to-order fried chicken from restaurants like Gus’s or Hotville Chicken will always be fresher than what sits under heat lamps in grocery stores. The pre-made variety can be overly greasy with minimal crunch, while restaurants like Jim Dandy or Bonchon provide decades of recipe refinement. But grocery store fried chicken’s benefits always outweigh the negatives, says Otoño owner Teresa Montaño. “In a pinch, it’s always so satisfying. It’s something I crave after I’m at the gym where I can get some greasy protein,” says Montaño. “It’s always available, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money or [use] any of the third-party apps. Stop at Ralphs, get some chicken, whatever else you need, and that’s it.”
My own relationship with fried chicken is complicated: I had a 15-year period where I didn’t touch it. A number of reasons lay behind this choice, starting with my doctor’s regular reminder that high blood pressure runs in our family. And as a Black woman, the long-running stereotype surrounding Black people and our alleged obsession with fried chicken made me not want to participate in its consumption in public or private. I even once declined to assist when editors updated a citywide map for fried chicken.
But in 2018, a friend asked me to accompany him to Tokyo Fried Chicken Co. After taking one bite, I remembered how much I missed that beautifully marinated karaage, along with my mother’s incredible recipe, which is always juicy and perfectly seasoned. Essentially, I reclaimed my love for fried chicken because Los Angeles excels at the dish, no matter what the style. I even made it to Miss Sippee, which sold outstanding Southern-style fried chicken from a gas station mini-mart until closing in 2020.
From standalone restaurants to mini-marts and everything in between, fried chicken is a vital part of LA’s food culture: even the wings waiting to be stuffed into to-go boxes at Ralphs. Below are some highlights of grocery store fried chicken around Los Angeles, from Qchon Chicken’s sweet, spicy parts at S-Mart in Torrance to golden pieces at the Louisiana-chain Krispy Krunchy Chicken, presented in alphabetical order.
If visiting the Albertsons location on Crenshaw near Martin Luther King Boulevard, glance toward the prepared foods section on any given day. The line snaking down the snack aisle can queue up to 20 people or more. These customers wait patiently to order bags full of the regular or spicy fried chicken.
Ma ‘n’ Pa Grocery
Ma ‘n’ Pa Grocery owners Zac and Renee Henderson took over this Belmont Heights market 17 years ago, though the actual store is 100-years-old. The charming neighborhood institution offers fried chicken on Wednesdays.
Mitsuwa West LA
Mitsuwa, one of LA’s longest-standing grocers, boasts a food court where sushi, ramen, or pastry. But the number 23 — which has a saucier fried chicken — comes as a combo plate that can be consumed on the spot, or packed for later consumption.
Qchon Chicken from S-Mart in Torrance
Wait until the car doors are closed and take in the aroma that is Qchon Chicken. Spicy or regular, this tiny vendor opened in Torrance’s S-Mart 10 years ago and prepares beautifully seasoned, exceptionally crispy Korean-style fried drumsticks.
According to a company spokesperson, all Ralphs stores follow the same process to prepare its fried chicken. There’s a different flavor profile for chicken tenders, which are double dipped in the fryer with a different breading technique than the fried chicken. This dish is the top-seller in Ralphs delis across the area, and you can’t beat the $7.99 eight piece price. I’d be remiss to not mention that Los Angeles has three fewer Ralphs locations to purchase fried chicken, while Long Beach has one that closed earlier this year. Ralphs parent company Kroger claimed these stores were underperforming but the decision to close the stores occurred after both city councils passed a temporary “hero pay” wage increase for store workers during COVID-19.
Head straight to the left corner of this South Bay Japanese grocery store to find a packet of fried chicken, and grab a bottle of sparkling plum water on your way out. Then pay the cashier and place directly in the microwave for lunch or dinner. Seiwa’s chicken is completely filling and around $4.
Vermont Center Market
The store’s name is a mouthful, and one of SoCal’s best markets to find Louisiana’s Krispy Krunchy Chicken on Vermont near 54th Street in South LA. The space is a combination of a corner market and liquor store with a Michoacana Ice Cream outlet. Krispy Krunchy can also be found at five locations throughout Los Angeles, and sometimes in gas station markets.